It is equally odd ( happily so ) to sit across the table from Bruce Foxton, who brings back just as many amazing memories of that fertile time when one could see six shows a week, and see one incredible band after another. Of all those fabulous artists, The Jam were one of the best ( and best live, where they had a big, teeth-gritted edge ), as proven by their remarkable staying power.
Even more so than SLF, The Jam remain one of the Top 10 beloved bands of that era, the constant subject of one archival/retrospective release after another, books, and interviews. Perhaps the culmination is the new ( expensive! ) box set, an exhaustive compendium of a band that did so much to make sure rock music would "say something about our lives, as massive Jam fan Morrissey would so poignantly say 10 years later on The Smiths' Panic ( Hang the DJ )
Foxton graciously consented to a brief chat on that incomparable group. And perhaps more interesting, since it's rarely been covered, he discusses his life after the band split up when he was, like hundreds of others in his situation, before and since, suddenly cast adrift, from "star" to "has-been" in the flash of a couple weeks' time. Such is the nature of the fickle public's perception. And as unlikely as it might be, even though the lawsuit has since been settled, anyone want to guess how much we'd pay for a Jam reunion show today?
JR: I just finished reading your book last week (The Jam: Our Story, co-written by Foxton and ex-Jam drummer Rick Buckler with writer Alex Ogg in 1994). (Jokingly) I see you've won several Nobel awards for non-fiction. (Bruce laughs) What was the upshot of doing a book like that?
BRUCE: To be honest, I wish we hadn't done it.
JR: Did it make your life more difficult? I know you and Rick ended up suing (singer/guitarist/songwriter) Paul Weller and his manager Dad around then, and the book harshly criticized Weller in many places.
BRUCE: It was written too long after the band had split. The idea was to make it light reading. We didn't want to get into any libel cases, so we had to leave the interesting bits out. It served a purpose to a certain extent, which was to put out a different side of the story in moderation. Usually, only Paul gets asked about The Jam in the press, but of course we have our own views.
JR: I found the book interesting only because I did see the Jam a few times when I was 17 and 19 years old, and at the time knew nothing about how bands worked together. When you're 17, every band seems like one big happy family. Of course, I soon found out better, but still the book was kind of an eye-opener for me. I'm sure a lot of your fans are unaware of all the feuding that went on behind the scenes.
BRUCE: The book was pretty tame, though. As I say, I kind of regret doing it, but it's done now. It won't do any harm.
JR: That's right, there's certainly no fall-off in interest in the group. There's been Tne Jam retrospective release after another, most recently the 5-CD box set Direction, Reaction, Creation.
BRUCE: The box set got into the Top Five in the U.K., which was unbelievable considering it was going for like 50 pounds ($80), I think! For a box set to get into the charts is fairly unheard of. (Jack agrees) It is very flattering that people still buy it, but then a lot of it still sounds really good today.
JR: Much agreed. It has a great immediacy. In fact, The Jam is still being covered. Just a few months ago Gene did "Wasteland" on a b-side. Good version, too.
BRUCE: (Surprised) I didn't know that! Yeah, there's a lot of bands out there that cite The Jam as one of their influences.
JR: Well, you wouldn't think of artists like Morrissey (who also covered "That's Entertainment" on a b-side) and Gene as likely to cover a Jam song! That's sort of a testament to your wide appeal, I would think. (Bruce agrees.) When are they reissuing your solo LP (Touch Sensitive, Arista, 1984)?
BRUCE: (laughing, surprised) When SLF ever hit, I should think! I don't think that will see the light of day again.
JR: It wasn't bad! Most solo LPs are much worse!
BRUCE: Half the tunes on that were all right! I wish I hadn't rushed it. I should've waited until I thought I had a dozen good songs as opposed to four or five. But at that time the record company were just accepting everything I submitted. There was no quality control from their side.
SHIRLEY: Not many people know that you, Jake, and Dolph (Taylor, SLF drummer) had a band for a short time that did demos in 1983.
BRUCE: Yeah, it was just after The Jam and SLF had split, so we all got together and did a few demos. A few major record companies were very interested in us. But my publishers were interested in what I was doing (as a soloist), and said they could get me a deal with Arista Records. I suppose I kind of panicked, really. I already had a career with The Jam, then suddenly I'm wondering what I'm gonna do next! Then my publisher is holding a cheque in front of me, saying they can get me a record deal with Arista, so I jumped at it. Upon reflection, I wish I would have stuck it out with Dolph and Jake. But that's water under the bridge now. The main thing is it's a lot more fun now.
JR: I actually preferred your solo album to those awful Style Council records of the time (group formed by Weller after he split up The Jam). I wrote a review at that time which said the only thing that accounted for the difference in popularity was the public's bias towards lead singers.
BRUCE: Well, at first I couldn't really understand why Paul decided to split the band up. But then when he came out with the Style Council album, I understood. I don't think Rick or I would've wanted to go down that ( musical ) path. It was a bit too wimpy for me. And that's not sour grapes or slagging Paul off. He must've realized that as well, and thought the same thing. But it didn't make sense to me at the time, not until six months or a year later.
JR: After your solo album, and prior to your appearance in SLF, what were you doing? You go into it a little bit in the book, but not much.
BRUCE: Just started from scratch again, playing in various groups. I joined the drummer from my solo band (Adrian Lillywhite, ex-Members, and brother of famous producer Steve Lillywhite) in a band called 100 Men, with another guitarist and a singer. There were a couple of near misses with record companies, then it fell through. There was another band after that, with Rick and a couple of Londoners called Built Like Stone. So all this time I'm sort of working behind the scenes, while the public is thinking, "He must've hung up his bass guitar." I was just trying to get somewhere with a band. In the late '80s I was with a group called The Rhythm Sisters, with two sisters based in Leeds. I spent about 18 months with them, gigging up and down Great Britain. Although that was really to keep playing, I wasn't really interested in their music.
JR: Perhaps it was inevitable at some point you'd be a musician for hire like that. The former members of The Ruts have been making a living at that for 20 years.
BRUCE: Yeah. Not through choice, but I just wanted to play, so when Jake phoned around 1989, I was just at the end of my tether with The Rhythm Sisters. I said, "I can't handle this anymore!"
JR: I'm kind of fascinated that people have this image of pop stars being supermen." Yet, whenever groups split up, their old fans seem happy to throw the former members in the toilet as if they've never existed, which I find wrong. The Jam were probably the most popular English group of its time. Then a few years after the band's finish it seems that nobody wants to know you. I'm curious because the band had sort of addressed that issue in your song "To Be Someone" (from All Mod Cons), and then there you were in that exact position! I'm not saying you were doing "cocaine and guitar-shaped pools"or anything like that, but...
BRUCE: Well, the public are quite fickle, anyway. They're looking for the next big thing, so you can't blame them for moving on. It's nice that we seem to be so well remembered though, a lot of other good bands aren't. And I am amazed that box set charted. And as for me, things have turned out all right for me in the end! I'm enjoying myself in this group.